It's less than 32 kilometres from border to border. It has two heads of state, a bishop from Spain and the president of France, but its official language is Catalan. Its mountains rise higher than 2,745 meters, and they accommodate some 20 kilometres of ski slopes. This is Andorra, a tiny landlocked principality, tucked in the eastern Pyrenees between France and Spain. Here, skiing usually lasts well into spring, with many resorts open until April, if snow conditions cooperate.
On a trip this winter, my wife and I found this place geared up for tourists. Buses run frequently, and tourist information is available. Fast lifts, one ticket for four linked ski areas and more snowmaking capacity gave us more time for skiing. Pas de La Casa is the easternmost of the linked resorts, lying along the border with France.
Unfortunately, the border is unmarked in the mountains, so I remain unsure if I managed to ski into France. Pas de la Casa has has some nice intermediate runs as well as beginner areas. My snowboarding friend and I preferred the area of Grau Roig, next to Pas de la Casa. The crowds were slightly smaller and the terrain more varied. Many of the Andorran slopes are treeless, but Grau Roig has some nice runs where you can go off-piste among sparse woods.
Icy scuba diving
We stayed in a condo near El Tarter, where a gondola takes the skier halfway up the mountain to a hub of activity. There are several restaurants, dog mushing, ski and snowboard school and lifts heading up to the top of the mountain. Throughout the Grandvalira circuit, there are igloo hotels and bars, snow go-karting, snowshoeing and even scuba diving under the ice in alpine lakes. Andorran restaurants offer larger portions than I remember from most European trips.
A relaxing experience
At the El Sola restaurant in the town of Canillo, a large open dining room gives a clear view of the chef cooking immense slabs of beef, lamb and pork at a giant wood fire.
Andorra has many spas, but the biggest and most amazing one is Caldea. It has a huge indoor-outdoor pool with bubbles and jets. Stairs lead out of the centre of the pool to raised whirlpools. Near the pool, a large hot pool and smaller ice-cold pool comprise what is called the Indo-Roman baths.
Of course, there are dry saunas and a steam room, which has the scent of eucalyptus. Sign up for a spa treatment and Caldea opens up a whole different level of relaxation. The Pyrenees are neither as high as the Alps, nor as dramatic in appearance as the Dolomites. Apart from the food, shopping and spas, plus Barcelona as a jumping-off point for your trip, tiny Andorra with its European mix offers more than enough for a memorable ski vacation. AP
Where: Almost hidden on the border between France and Spain, the mainstay of this tiny Principality of Andorra, a land of narrow valleys and mountainous landscapes, is tourism. An estimated 10 million people visit each year, drawn by their winter sports and duty-free goods. This is the sixth smallest nation in Europe with an area of 468 km and its capital, Andorra la Vella, is the highest capital city in Europe at an elevation of 1,023 metres.
How to get there: There is only one road entering Andorra from France, and only one widely-used road entering Andorra from Spain. Almost all entry into the country happens at one of these two points. There are no airports in Andorra. However, there are daily coach services from the airports in Barcelona in Spain and Toulouse in France to Andorra. There are also no train lines or stations in Andorra, and none close to the Spanish border. The nearest station is in France, 3 km from the Andorra border.
Language and currency: Andorra's official language is Catalan, but almost everyone speaks Spanish. French and Portuguese are widely spoken too. Those involved in the tourism industry also speak English. It is not a member of the European Union, but the Euro is the de facto currency.
Other things to look out for: Apart from the Perfume Museum and the National Automobile Museum, also check out the valleys of Incles, Sorteny and Rialb, which are famous for beautiful flowers and the 12th century Church of Santa Coloma, with its spectacular bell tower.